What Is Intent?

Intent refers to the person’s mental state and motivation for carrying out a criminal act.  It is the act of intending (meaning) to do something.

To prove intent evidence must show that the act was a deliberate illegal action.

For a party in a legal case to be found guilty of a crime, ‘intent’ must be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.


What Are The Main Elements Needed To Prove Intent?

There are two main elements required to prove ‘intent’ in a court of law:

  1. Mens rea
  2. Actus reus.

Mens rea

This literally means ‘guilty mind’. It refers to the state of mind of the defendant before or during the criminal act and the intention to commit a crime.

Proof must show that the defendant knew that their action (or lack of action) would cause a crime to be committed.


Actus reus

This refers to the criminal ‘act’ or activity that harmed another person or damages their property. It is broken down into sections:

  • Conduct – the specific actions taken
  • Consequences – the out outcome of the specific act
  • Circumstances – the circumstances which must exist for the act to be criminal. E.g Did the property belong to someone else? Was there consent to the use of the property?

What are the different types of intent?

The types of criminal intent are dependent on the type of crime that has been committed.

There are three common-law intents:

  1. Malice aforethought
  2. Specific intent
  3. General intent.

Malice Aforethought

This is the ‘conscious intent to cause death or great bodily harm to another person before a person commits the crime’ https://dictionary.law.com.

It means that the person who carried out the illegal act ‘intended’ to achieve the outcome. It was a planned, calculated (premeditation) act to cause harm with ‘malice’ (hatred, cruelty).


Specific Intent

The person who committed the illegal act was aware that their actions would bring about illegal conduct. The defendant intended to carry out an action that will bring about a certain result.

Note: Specific intent cannot usually be proved by direct evidence as it refers to a state of mind. It may be indicated from the facts of the case.


General Intent

This is when the person who committed the illegal act intended to do it – it was not an accident.

E.g. In the case of theft, the prosecution must prove that the defendant ‘intended’ to carry out the act of theft by permanently depriving another person of their property and they had not just picked the item up by accident.


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Posted in Business Law, Business Law - Introduction.